The Australian Standard for child restraints in cars has been reviewed to allow the use of an international child restraint system, called ISOFIX, where seats clip into attachment points manufactured into cars (providing it's used in conjunction with Australia's top tether restraints).
Britax, the Australian manufacturer of Safe-n-Sound car seats, told CHOICE in 2013 that they were working to incorporate the new standard as soon as possible, but the new style of seats are still not on sale here as of March 2014.
Key changes to the standard
Child restraints including lower attachment connectors, allowing them to be engaged with the ISOFIX low anchorages available in many cars, will be made available in Australia and New Zealand. This new category is similar to systems offered overseas. As with all Australian child restraints, the upper tether strap must still be used.
A new category of restraint will allow for most children aged up to two to three years of age to stay rear-facing.
A new category of child restraint with an in-built harness for children from approximately six months up to approximately eight years of age will be introduced. Previously, restraints with an inbuilt harness have only been available for children up to approximately four years of age.
Introduction of testing and defining child restraints that are suitable for babies who are of low birth weight or premature.
Introduction of child restraints suitable for aircraft travel.
What you need to know
- Existing seats are safe to use, and should continue to be available once the new seats are rolled out.
- New ISOFIX-style seats aren't yet available on the market, and manufacturers haven’t indicated when they will be.
- The new seats may not be backwards-compatible with all vehicles, but can probably be used in European cars manufactured in the last 10 years, and in certain newer vehicles that are sold in Europe.
- Seats will still need to be professionally fitted to ensure correct installation.
There have been calls for the introduction of ISOFIX in Australia for some time. Professor Lotta Jakobsson, technical specialist at Volvo Cars Safety Centre in Sweden, has long been advocating for this. ISOFIX makes correct installation of car seats easier, and some claim it is easier to use than other systems. However, experts still recommend parents get professional help to ensure their ISOFIX-style seats are correctly installed.
While ISOFIX's incorporation into the Australian Standard will provide greater choice for parents, it isn't necessarily safer than the current system, with several experts CHOICE spoke with telling us that our current top-tethered seats, when correctly installed, are as safe as ISOFIX-style restraints.
Professor Lynne Bilston of Neuroscience Research Australia, University of New South Wales, is one of Australia's top experts in the field. She says parents need not be too concerned if they have one of the older-style seats. Prof Bilston says parents should be more concerned with properly fitting restraints and ensuring older children are kept in booster seats longer. "Parents don't need to panic about whether they need to keep their child rear facing. There are other priorities - for example, there are a lot of children not using a booster seat, even though they need one for secure seat belting until they are up to 12 years old. The biggest risk to children in Australia is misuse."
To check on child restraint requirements for your state or find a professional child restraint fitter, visit Kidsafe.
For more on how to choose the best child car seat for your needs, read our child car restraints buying guide.